December 14, 2011 12:53pm EST
Let’s put the cards on the table: I have not read Steig Larsson’s best-selling “Millennium Trilogy” and therefore cannot comment on whether or not Columbia Pictures’ big-budget (American) adaptation of its first novel is a spot-on transfer of the shocking story or if Rooney Mara has lived up to the punk-goth-genius of an anti-heroine he created. This review is about director David Fincher’s craft and the dream cast he has assembled to make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo one of the most brutal and engrossing films of 2011.
Right from lustrous sexy title sequence evoking torturous S&M imagery to the ultra-cool Karen O/Trent Reznor rendition of Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” the Oscar-nominated filmmaker plunges his audience into a very specific experience. This is not to say that the story itself is notably inventive; Dragon Tattoo is more or less a standard serial killer thriller wherein a pair of investigators attempts to solve a decades-old murder that has ties to other gruesome mysteries and a wealthy Swedish family. It’s the sinister atmosphere and tone he cultivates using color music and lighting that makes this tale so unique and highly watchable in spite of the terrible events that occur throughout.
Perhaps most compelling though is its mixed bag of characters from different walks of life including Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) a recently disgraced financial journalist in need of an assignment Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgard) a yuppie-ish corporate tycoon charged with running the family business started by his uncle Henrik (Christopher Plummer) and Lisbeth Salander (Mara) the alpha-outsider and titular character of this eerie epic. All are emotionally scarred and the actors charged with portraying them go the darkest corners of their own souls to make them their own. Mara in particular must be praised for her ghoulish and extreme embodiment of Salander who suffers physical and emotional torment unlike anything we’ve seen in cinema this year. This more than her scene-stealing presence in Fincher’s The Social Network is no doubt her star-making turn; expect to see her name on a marquee soon. Though she and Craig at times struggle with the Swedish diction (the latter’s native British accent slips through more times than I can count) they more than make up for it with their physical personifications facial expressions etc. Yet it’s Skarsgard who is most impressive as the younger Vanger (he’s of Swedish descent) and delivers a stunning and chilling performance that will rival Mara’s in defining this film in years to come.
Still this is a Fincher film through and through and I cannot think of source material better suited for the maker of Se7en and Zodiac than this disturbing chronicle. Visually he’s given the opportunity to create damp decaying interiors familiar to fans of his work but contrasts them with beautifully filmed exteriors including some terrifying whiteout conditions that are sure to lower your body temperature. In terms of form he and editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall effectively lay out dual character arcs (that of Salander and Blomkvist) that run parallel but connect in uncanny ways until their eventual convergence resulting in a highly literary feel. Both Baxter and Wall won Oscars for cutting The Social Network and I’m afraid that their penchant for quick transitions between shots has a decreasing effect on the terror; for a film that so closely treads the line between horror-thriller I felt that letting certain shots play out a bit longer could’ve had more dreadful results.
Still in no way I am saying that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t come with its share of nail-biting suspense. Fincher takes tense situations to the next level using unconventional camera angles and Reznor’s unnerving score making many sequences in the movie hard to watch. It’s a tiring but entertaining task; one that is a pleasure and pain to endure but the auteur’s masterful methods are quite magical even when being used to tell a story as menacing as this one.
There’s nothing else playing at the multiplex this season that’s quite like it and should you choose to view it you’ll carry its shocks with you for days after.
The Hollywood actress, 63, was presented with the lifetime achievement prize, a bronze horse statuette weighing a hefty 15 pounds (7.3 kilograms), by Swedish actor Gustaf Hammarsten.
Paying tribute to the Thelma and Louise star, Hammarsten said, "The roles Susan Sarandon has played often gain a life of their own beyond the films themselves.
"Reflection, seduction and rebellion animate her characters and seem to be the key tools in her actor's repertoire."
Accepting the award, Sarandon vowed to continue working for as long as possible.
She told the audience, "I am very happy that I'm still working, that I'm able to get jobs when a lot of people that I started out with are no longer working. I still have a really good time, and as long as that continues I'll continue to do it."
French director Luc Besson is also set to be honoured at the annual event, which runs until 29 November (09).
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Full frontal male nudity raucous swingers and Paula Abdul are three of the many elements contributing to the ridiculous and utterly compelling Bruno Sacha Baron Cohen’s return to form after a three year post-Borat hiatus.
At 83 minutes Bruno is a mad-dash trek from Paris fashion week to the Hollywood hills to the Middle East Africa the southern United States and back again. In his fame-seeking efforts gay Austrian journalist Bruno completely freaks out a non-bondage-gear-friendly hotel staff gets chased down an Israeli street by incensed Hasidic Jews and nearly starts a riot by getting physical with his assistant Lutz in front of the rough-and-tumble crowd at a cage-fighting match. Whether the movie pisses you off grosses you out or makes you double over laughing Baron Cohen’s bravery must be commended.
WHO’S IN IT?
Baron Cohen as Bruno Gustaf Hammarsten as Bruno's enraptured assistant Lutz and Clifford Banagale as butt boy Diesel. Abdul Ron Paul Harrison Ford and a cast of unaware antagonists from across the United States Europe and the Middle East also make cameos.
A scene featuring LaToya Jackson was cut from the film three hours before its Los Angeles premiere which was held on the same day as Michael Jackson’s death.
If Bruno is digested as it’s sold – flamboyant fashionista comes to the United States to fulfill aspirations of fame and manifests hilarity through encounters with unassuming citizens – then the movie is indeed an insightful glimpse into the often uncomfortable collective unconscious of prejudice and its many tangential issues.
Bruno distributor Universal insists the film's action is authentic and have not discussed the filmmaking process. Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles have been similarly mum. However it’s been suggested that the film is a series of staged vignettes in which actors portray common folk for laughs. If so Bruno maintains its hilarity but loses the reality component that renders the satire so fascinating. Still the number of Bruno-related lawsuits Universal is already grappling with suggest many people in the film aren’t thrilled to be there. Certainly politician Ron Paul was unaware of the situation when he ended up in a hotel room with the disrobed protagonist. The former presidential candidate grumbles that Bruno is a “queer” after fleeing the scene.
The vain wimpy animal print thong wearing Bruno is a sashaying gay stereotype in heels. The nebulous homophobia issue has made the movie a point of contention in the gay community. However this and other mini scandals (see Bruno’s MTV Movie Awards appearance with Eminem) have contributed to the buzz growing as the film’s July 10th release date approaches. Whatever preconceptions the audience brings to the theater Bruno truly must be seen to be believed.
A tensely funny scene involves Bruno casting a photo shoot starring his newly adopted African baby. Bruno interviews earnest stage parents angling to have their young children cast in the project. A particular conversation goes something like this:
Bruno: “How much does your daughter weigh?”
Mother: “30 pounds.”
“Can she lose 10 pounds in the next week?”
“Yeah. I’d have to do whatever I could.”
“And if she doesn’t get the weight off would you be willing to have her undergo liposuction?”
“... Yes. If that’s what it takes to get her cast.”
This squirmy moment and the hundreds of others like it (said photo shoot yields shots of Bruno’s “Gayby” hanging from a cross) contribute to a wholly fascinating cringe-inducing and painfully hilarious glimpse into the underbelly of American homophobia celebrity tolerance etc. The Cambridge-educated Cohen’s talent for culling insight from the ever preposterous scenarios into which he thrusts his oblivious queen allows the film like Borat and Da Ali G Show before it to operate on dual levels of silly often vulgar slapstick and sly social commentary.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
See it now. Multiplex.